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Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Sean MacBride (1904-1988)

Sean MacBride

Sean MacBride (1904-1988)

Sean MacBride, son of Maud Gonne and Major John MacBride, was born in Paris and educated at Mount St. Benedict's, Gorey, County Wexford. He joined the IRA in 1919 and saw active service throughout the War of Independence. MacBride opposed the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and was imprisoned by the Free State during the Civil War. On his release in 1924 he worked as a journalist in Paris and London before returning to Dublin where he studied law and resumed his IRA activities.
In 1936 MacBride was Chief of Staff of the IRA but he resigned his command in 1937 when he was called to the Irish Bar in which capacity he frequently defended Irish political prisoners.
In 1946 MacBride founded Clann na Poblachta, a republican/socialist Party and in February, 1948 he became Minister for External Affairs after Clann na Poblachta won ten seats in the Dáil and formed the first inter-party Irish Government with Fine Gael. As Minister of External Affairs MacBride was responsible for Ireland not joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). He was instrumental in the implementation of the Repeal of the External Relations Act and the Declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949. MacBride lost his Dáil seat in 1951; was re-elected in 1954 and subsequently lost the 1961 general election.
Throughout the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's Sean MacBride worked tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He took the Gerry Lawless case to the European Commission on Human Rights after hundreds of men were interned without trial in the Republic of Ireland in 1958. MacBride was a founder member of Amnesty International in 1961 and was International Chairman of Amnesty International until 1974. He was Secretary-General of the International Committee of Jurists from 1963-1971. MacBride was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 and was elected President of the International Peace Bureau. In 1977 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize and was appointed Chairman of UNESCO in 1980. In the late 1980's Sean McBride initiated the 'MacBride Principles' whereby companies in Northern Ireland who operate sectarian recruiting policies were boycotted by American companies. This extract is from MacBride's pamphlet Civil Liberties (1947).©

On the whole, as a nation, we respect personal liberty in the abstract. That in itself is a good thing. On the other hand, we often fail to put into practise this abstract belief in individual liberty. We are apt to believe in personal rights for ourselves and those with whom we are in agreement, but to deny them to our political opponents. Individual rights and personal liberty must be universal in their application, otherwise they, in turn, become instruments of oppression.
Therefore, we must approach the subject of individual liberty with a clear understanding that the principles upon which it rests are applicable alike to those who share our views and to those who hold other views. The time has come when men and women in Ireland should be able, irrespective of party affiliations, to organise and work together for the protection and development of individual rights.
Many reasons render the protection and development of civil liberty as a matter of importance and urgency. In war time the people concede far reaching powers to their governments. Wars beget all out governmental control of the lives of the individual. Rulers are slow to relinquish the dominion they have thus acquired. The people do not know how to regain their lost rights; some even reach the stage of not realising that they have rights, while others who have grown up during the war period do not know that they had rights, for they never experienced them during normal conditions. Emergency conditions for many have become the normal standard of life.
Coupled with the encroachment on civil rights directly due to the war, another far reaching invasion of civil liberty has been occurring with increasing rapidity during the past twenty years, due to the expansion of the powers of the State. The scientific, economic and social march of what we term 'civilisation' has been rapid in the last quarter of a century, it inevitably led to control and power being vested in the organs of government to a degree that had never been foreseen. The growth of governments and of the civil service is evidence of this development.
The rulers are not to blame for this development; it was due to the rapid advances of science, economics and socialism. Whatever be the causes, government departments are now gigantic concerns, whose tentacles reach out into all spheres of activity and into the life of every individual citizen.
While this development may have been inevitable, and even to some extent necessary, it has resulted in a further invasion of individual liberty. Much of the invasion of personal liberty thus brought about was not necessary. Bureaucracy merely availed itself of the occasion to extend its tentacles further into the lives of the people. It has been a gradual process which often passed by unnoticed; the war facilitated this process... What then of our Constitution? It contains fine language and enunciates sound principles but, in some respects, many of these principles are nullified by provisos that render certain elementary and vital safeguards valueless.
For instance, Article 40 (4) [of the Irish Constitution] provides that 'No Citizen shall be deprived of his liberty save in accordance with law.' Our Supreme Court has held that a law which enables a Minister to order the imprisonment of a Citizen without charge or trial for an indeterminate period of time does not contravene our Constitution. This decision is in strict accord with the carefully chosen wording of this article, but it certainly nullifies the sound principles and language used in other portions of this article and in the Preamble. It is of some significance to note that the equivalent Article in the 1922 Constitution contained the words: ''The liberty of the person is inviolable'. These words were carefully eliminated from the 1937 Constitution; this cannot have been an oversight. It must have been done advisedly. On the whole, the 1922 Constitution, although its language may not have been as elaborate contained in some respects more real safeguards. Article 38 of the Constitution provides, in effect, that a civilian 'shall not be tried by any court-martial or other military tribunal.'
Yet, our Supreme Court has decided that the Constitution renders it is permissible to try anyone by a Court consisting of three military officers sitting in a military barracks, if the Government so direct.

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